Weekly Reflection and News: January 16, 2020

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
-John 1:29-42

John said, “I came…that he might be revealed to Israel.” I have long thought that the Church is like John the Baptist. We exist to make Jesus known in the world. In John’s day, nobody had any inklings about Jesus, the Messiah, or the whole religious tradition that would arise around his story. In today’s world many people have had exposure to the religion of Jesus, whether or not they have encountered the risen Christ in their lives. An increasing number of people are as uninformed about Jesus as the Jews in Jesus’ day. They have a sense of being spiritual, but it has precious little organized religious expression. In fact, unlike in John’s day, there is a widespread distrust of organized religion. Religion is seen as a promotor of bigotry, isolationism and self-serving hypocrisy. John didn’t come to reveal a religion. He came to reveal Jesus.

Jesus said, “Come and see.” To the ones who inquired, the seeker, the interested, or those sensing a spiritual void or need, Jesus invites people to join him. He offers no explanations or rationalizations, no mission statements and no causes, just a simple, person-to-person invitation to try out the community of Jesus for a while and then make up their own minds.

Perhaps Jesus’ invitation is the way to make Jesus known. As we as a parish gather this Sunday to look back at where we’ve come from, and then forward where we would like to go, we do so as a religious community gathered. Let us never forget that Jesus is the core of our community. Our purpose is the same as John’s; our methods should be those of Jesus.

The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)

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Weekly Reflection and News: January 9, 2020

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
-Matthew 3:13-17

Our daughter-in-law gave birth to our fourth grandchild three months ago. For nine months, we watched and lived with her as her body changed and grew, and we all wondered what this child would be like. The couple refused to reveal a name. Her belly was a great mystery developing, a package of love to be delivered into our family. When Gabriel Bruce did arrive, we were all overjoyed to meet this child. Even now, at three months, we have seen his personality begin to reveal itself.

Baptism is a great revealing. We speak of it as a birth and a bath, a bath washing away sin, and a birth into a new life. A question we have all asked is, “Why is Jesus’ baptism a pattern for our own when Jesus never sinned?” Perhaps the “bath “part of baptism isn’t seen in Jesus’ baptism, but the birth certainly is. Following baptism, Jesus begins public ministry. In baptism, Jesus is revealed as the Christ, the anointed one sent into the world, the son of God. In our baptisms, we are recognized as children of God. It is not so much that we make children of God, that’s God’s work. We recognize, catch up with the divine in the waters of baptism.

Jesus’ public ministry began after baptism. How many of us also need to move into public ministry in ways that perhaps we have not thought of?

The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)

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Weekly Reflection and News: January 2, 2020

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
-Matthew 2:1-12

20/20. What one normally sees at 20 feet. Perfect vision, or rather, normal vision, the standard for human capacity to perceive.

However, this assumes that perception and division are the same thing. I know better. I am sure you do too. How many times have I looked for my car keys over and over again only to find them laying in plain sight? How many times has a comment by someone who knows me well opened my own inner eye to inner truth that had not yet been seen?

This Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany. The word evokes the uncovering or revealing of light, or truth – the truth about Jesus. During Epiphany season we are going to be looking at ways that our stories and Scripture’s stories revealed the nature of Christ in the world. During this Epiphany season all the way to Ash Wednesday, we will be looking at what the Scriptures say about Jesus and how the story of Jesus shines light on our own stories. We begin with the story of wisemen from the east revealing the nature of the baby born in Bethlehem.

We can all tell our own Epiphany stories. These are moments when the truth of Jesus shone light on our past, revealed truth, or opened up a path forward. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to Father Paul. It may be worked into one of the Epiphany sermons.

The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)

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Weekly Reflection and News: December 26, 2019

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
-John 1:1-18

Currently, the rest of the Star Wars stories are quite popular. Some of them carry the story into the future after the first great movie many years ago, and of course, some of them tell the backstory. Back stories are important because they put the story that we heard in a greater context. They tell us where it all came from. This is John’s approach to the Christmas story. John doesn’t mention angels and shepherds as Luck does. John doesn’t talk about wisemen from the east like Matthew. But neither of those stories really makes sense until you understand John. He gives us the background context.

It is a context that we live in now. It suggests that there are two interconnected, interpenetrating realms in which we live, one smaller and the other greater. The smaller one is made up of the social, economic, and political world we live in. We tell the stories of this realm in our history books, our checkbooks, and our social calendars. The greater realm tells us why our smaller realm is structured as it is, and it is the only realm from which we can answer the moral questions about the smaller realm. That greater realm, as John notes, begins in the Great Source, God. Jesus, the incarnate son of God, brings those two realms together. The first thing said is that the smaller realm depends on the larger one. We cannot ignore it. And now that we are aware of it, the way we live in the smaller one can never quite be the same, just as our appreciation of the character of Luke Skywalker cannot be the same after we have seen the prequel.

No wonder theologians called this section the prologue of the Gospel of John. It’s really the pro— or, first logos or word about God in Jesus Christ—and therefore us. This is our backstory, and by it we know who we are and where we are going. Consider this as you think about New Year’s Resolutions and see what difference it makes.

The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)

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Magnificat: Credits and Acknowledgements

The cover image is a painting entitled “The Virgin in Prayer” by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, an Italian Baroque painter. I recolored it in a light blue so that I could add the text box for the title and because blue is frequently the liturgical color for Advent. Blue is also associated with the Virgin Mary.

I can do nothing on my own, so I would like to acknowledge the following people:

  • Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the devotion writers: Marilyn Allen, Keith Axberg, Michael Boss, Barb Cheyney, Kathy Fleck (Sister Katharine, OSB), Cathey Frederick, Fr. Paul Moore, Natalee Raymond, Ashley Sweeney, Mary Ann Taylor, Vicki Wesen, Penny Worrell, and Tom Worrell. Y’all inspire me, and I enjoyed reading your work in the process of assembling this project.
  • Thank you to Ashley Sweeney for sending me amazing pictures of artwork from Italy while I was working on this devotional book. It was a great help to me in formulating my own reflections and in searching for a cover picture.
  • Blessings to you in this Advent season and Merry Christmas.
    -Jen McCabe

    Magnificat: December 25, 2019 (Christmas Day)

    “So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” – Luke 2:16-19

    “Oh, but you didn’t have to!” How many times has a gift I gave been greeted by those words! And my standard reply is not really very standard: “If I had to it wouldn’t have been a gift.” I know I miss the point. They mean to express unexpected joy and gratitude. (I’m hiding my dumb luck at having stumbled on just the right gift.) In another sense, I don’t miss the point. Gifts are given freely or not at all.

    We’ve been reading all Advent long about two parallel songs of women whose sentiment toward God is similar. Hannah, childless until she conceives Samuel, the last and greatest of the judges of the Old Testament, bursts forth in song at the gift of what didn’t have to be. Mary, chosen by God to be the Mother of God, when it could have been most anyone else, bursts into song. The fact of the gift (rather than nothing) and the fittingness of the gift (when it could have been otherwise) give rise to unexpected joy and gratitude.

    And perhaps it goes deeper still. There is wonder; wonder at a gift freely given, and therefore truly a gift, and exactly fitting, for it was precisely what we most needed. I wonder when I think that God actually takes the cosmic risk of giving people the freedom to reject their own Source so that any relationship between them and the Source could be freely given and received. If I were more capable, a song would be fitting. And there is more. I wonder that God would hide divinity in a human face so we would understand. I wonder that God would hide in our faces as we face one another.

    It just didn’t have to be that way—and yet it is.

    (As a prayer, imagine yourself in a place that inspires wonder and ponder the gift God didn’t have to give.)
    -Fr. Paul Moore

    As a Christmas bonus to y’all, we have a playlist of Christmas music for you here.